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Prepared Remarks of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the National Fair Housing Alliance Conference

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Location: Washington, DC

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SEC. DONOVAN: Thank you to Shanna for your introduction. It's an honor for me to be here today for the National Fair Housing Alliance's 2009 conference. I know that some of my colleagues at HUD will also be joining you today and throughout the week to talk about HUD's work on fair housing and the housing crisis, but I'm pleased to have the opportunity to welcome all of you to Washington today and share with you my vision for changing the way that HUD does business, including renewing our commitment to fair housing enforcement and strengthening our partnerships with NFHA and the FHIPs and FHAPs across the country.

Forty one years ago when Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, we took a major step toward fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of a united society. Today our commitment to this dream and to fair housing for all Americans both at HUD and in the Obama Administration is as strong as ever. I know that we can work together to bring fair housing into the 21st century, and as your conference title says, realize a more perfect union, a union where all Americans can live where they want, regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Together with our staff at HUD and in partnership with you, I am fully committed to continuing this critically important fight and making this more perfect union a reality for all Americans.

I first want to announce that today we are releasing HUD's annual Fair Housing Report that details the number of housing discrimination complaints that HUD and our local FHAP partners on the ground receive throughout the year. For FY 2008, we are reporting a record number of housing discrimination complaints: 10,552, 44 percent are of alleged disability discrimination, and 35 percent are of alleged race-based discrimination. Between FY 2005 and FY 2008, there has been a slight decrease in the number of disability complaints and a slight increase in the number of race complaints.

What our report, as well as your own report say to me is that we at HUD have a lot of work to do under the Obama Administration to address fair housing issues. As fair housing advocates, we all have a lot of work ahead of us.

Today I want to make HUD's commitment to fair housing under President Obama's leadership clear: I pledge that HUD, in partnership with FHIPS and FHAPs, will recommit our agency to affirmatively further fair housing. HUD will work tirelessly to make fair housing more relevant to people's lives and we will continue to stand up for anyone who is unlawfully denied a home of their own.

I hope that NFHA and your members will support us in our recommitment to affirmatively furthering fair housing. We need your engagement as we begin to transform ourselves as an agency and as a country, and I look forward to working closely to ensure that all Americans have equal housing opportunity.

In order to recommit HUD to affirmatively further fair housing and transform HUD as an agency, we're bringing in a team of innovative leaders to get our country's economy back on track and ensure that all Americans have access to decent, safe, and affordable housing - all goals that were largely ignored in the last eight years and goals that we in the Obama Administration are committed to.

Let me first mention our Deputy Secretary Ron Sims. Ron is truly an innovative leader with an exciting vision for the future of our nation's communities. Ron has been one of the great leaders nationally in his effort to link housing, zoning and transportation, and he will continue that work here at HUD in the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. Before joining us at HUD, Ron served for three terms as the King County Executive, the 13th most populous county in the nation and a metropolitan area with 1.8 million residents and 39 cities.

Deputy Secretary Sims has a strong record on both fair housing and social justice. In 2001, then County Executive Sims joined the City of Seattle and local non-profit agencies to form the Seattle-King County Coalition for Responsible Lending. The coalition launched a major consumer protection public information campaign, helping countless households avoid predatory loans and the loss of their homes. In addition to fostering responsible lending activities, Ron has long been a leader in furthering fair housing efforts in the region through education and enforcement.

In 2008, Ron asked his local community to join together to eliminate long-standing inequalities and work toward fairness and equity for all through launching the King County Equity and Social Justice Initiative. The goal of this Initiative is to enable all county residents to live in "communities of opportunity," regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, sexual orientation, or disability. I know that Ron's commitment to affirmatively furthering fair housing and equal opportunity for all Americans will continue here at HUD.

Tomorrow you'll hear from our Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña. Assistant Secretary Trasviña joins us at HUD after serving as the President and General Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Los Angeles. Trasviña began his career at MALDEF in 1985 as a legislative attorney.

He later worked for U.S. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois as General Counsel and Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Trasviña as Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices. As Special Counsel, he led the only federal government office devoted solely to immigrant workplace rights. Trasviña was the highest ranking Latino attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice.

I am incredibly honored to have Assistant Secretary Trasviña onboard at HUD to lead the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. He has devoted his legal career to public service in civil rights and immigration policy and he will be a huge asset to HUD as we work to advance fair housing across the country.

While Bill Apgar from my staff will be speaking at one of your plenary sessions later today about President Obama's Making Home Affordable program, let me just touch briefly on the plan and how we are helping ALL American families stay in their homes and protecting them from discriminatory lending and foreclosure prevention scams. I'm here today to reassure you that we are doing everything we can in the Obama Administration to help our housing market and our economy recover, while at the same time protecting vulnerable populations from housing discrimination.

Since the President announced his modification plan on February 18th, rates on 30-year mortgages have dropped to record lows, below 5%. A typical homeowner can now refinance and save around $2,000 a year, the equivalent of a major tax cut. And the plan's website has received over 20 million page views. Fourteen servicers have now signed contracts and begun modifications and refinancing, representing more than 75 percent of the mortgage servicing market.

To date, participating servicers have extended offers on more than 120,000 trial modifications and mailed out nearly 700,000 letters with information about Making Home Affordable to borrowers. We expect these numbers to grow significantly over the next few months and we already have some early signs that the market overall is stabilizing.

While these numbers undoubtedly demonstrate progress, we can't forget that the housing crisis has illustrated that many families need help with the complex homebuying process and need a trusted place to turn when they face foreclosure. Many families, particularly minorities, have also proven to be vulnerable to aggressive and misleading marketing of risky loan products and foreclosure rescue scams. In this environment, the need and demand for mortgage and foreclosure counseling efforts could not be greater and that's why I was proud earlier this year to stand with my colleagues from Treasury, Justice, and the FTC, as well as the Illinois Attorney General, to announce our coordinated effort to combat foreclosure scams and protect consumers.

Foreclosure scams are destructive, devastating, and deceptive, and I'm thrilled that the National Fair Housing Alliance is launching an ad campaign to address the fair housing challenges in the foreclosure crisis, including predatory lending and foreclosure scams. I want to thank everyone at the National Fair Housing Alliance for working tirelessly to put together the ad campaign and coordinate with the Administration to ensure that fair housing information is accessible to American homeowners on makinghomeaffordable.gov.

The wrong lesson to draw from the foreclosure crisis is that low and moderate income families cannot be homeowners. What low and moderate income aspiring homeowners need is homeownership counseling, protection through fair housing laws, and a mortgage product that makes financial sense for them - all initiatives that HUD is working to further both in the President's housing plan and in our FY 2010 proposed budget. In our 2010 budget and beyond, I will renew and strengthen our commitment at HUD to fair housing enforcement, particularly enforcement around lending violations that disproportionately target minority communities. The Fair Lending Division of FHEO, whose creation in 2007 has enabled HUD to use its authority under the Fair Housing Act to initiate fair lending investigations, will be a partner in this effort.

Our FY 2010 budget requests $37 million for an agency wide initiative to Combat Mortgage Fraud and Predatory Practices, recognizing that the current mortgage market environment increases the potential for mortgage fraud and predatory practices on multiple fronts. Of this $37 million, we will dedicate $13 million to curbing discrimination through increases in HUD's fair housing activities. Such additional funding will support the efforts of traditional fair housing centers, consumer protection advocates, and others in waging a comprehensive response to discriminatory mortgage practices and mortgage rescue scams. This additional funding will also enhance the capacity of state and local agencies to address lending discrimination and mortgage abuse.

HUD could not enforce the Fair Housing Act in all of our programs without the dedication and support of our Fair Housing Initiatives Program and Fair Housing Assistance Program partners. The work that these agencies do on the ground across the country plays a key role in helping HUD ensure that every resident of this nation has the opportunity to obtain housing of their choice, free from discrimination. In our budget, we are requesting substantial increases in these signature fair housing programs to combat discrimination in the housing market and enable growth patterns that are not only sustainable but inclusive. HUD requests $42.5 million for FHIP, an increase of $15 million and $29.5 million for FHAP, an increase of $3.5 million. We must continue to strengthen our partnerships with FHIPs and FHAPs to ensure that they have the tools and support they need to successfully enforce the Fair Housing Act, particularly in these challenging economic times.

Finally, in our budget we are making a commitment to creating a geography of opportunity for all Americans by investing $150 million in a new Sustainable Communities Initiative that will integrate transportation and housing planning and decisions in a way that maximizes choices for residents and businesses, lowers transportation costs and drives more sustainable development patterns. The average working family spends nearly 60% of its budget on housing and transportation costs.

To accomplish our budget goals, we are investing in new kinds of partnerships and collaborations with our partners both in and out of government to find innovative solutions to the challenges facing our nation. Through the Sustainable Communities Initiative, we are working with the Department of Transportation to lower housing and transportation costs and expand every family's choices for affordable housing and transportation by better coordinating our investments at the federal level.

Most importantly, this Initiative furthers our commitment to fair housing by taking steps to remedy the problems imposed by concentrations of poverty across the country and give all Americans equal housing choice. This is just one example of the kind of innovation and collaboration you'll see on fair housing at HUD both now and into the future.

Under the new Administration, we will work to reinvigorate the fair housing function that HUD serves, and I call on you and all of our partners across the country to stand with me in this effort.

Our successes in ensuring equal housing opportunity for all Americans demands an unprecedented level of collaboration, coordination, and communication between HUD, other federal agencies, state and local government, and community agencies just like the membership of the National Fair Housing Alliance. As Dr. King once said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. I look forward to working closely with all of you here today to make our vision for a more perfect union a reality for our families, for our communities, and for our country.

Thanks again for inviting me here today and I am now happy to take any questions that you may have.

END.


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